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Interview: Craig Carter

October 26th, 2010 | 6 min read

By Andrew Walker

Below is an interview with an individual who I believe is providing a truly unique voice in the blogosphere, Craig Carter. Dr. Carter is a Professor of Religious Studies at Tyndale College and blogs regularly at The Politics of the Cross Resurrected. If you're unfamiliar with his writings, he blogs on a litany of issues—the rise of militant Islam, the subtlety of fascism, the encroaching influence of secularism and Socialism, Christian political ethics, etc.

All this, it should be noted, from a Canadian perspective! I dare say that Dr. Carter understands American politics and American conservatism more than 95% of most Americans and conservatives. More uniquely, Dr. Carter understands politics and theology from a unique perspective as having gone through a significant paradigm shift in his own thinking. The author of the well known, Rethinking Christ and Culture: A Post-Christendom Perspective, Dr. Carter sought to bring the typologies of Reinhold Niebuhr into focus and through a reapplication of John Howard Yoder.

Having read his book, one would find Dr. Carter severely critical of Christendom and aligned with traditional Anabaptist theology and social thought. Yet, according to the introduction on his own blog, "having been influenced over the past two decades primarily by Karl Barth and John Howard Yoder, I have recently been reading St. Augustine, Dostoevesky, Solzhenitsyn, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. I am trying to be a catholic Evangelical and am finding myself becoming more conservative in both politics and theology in the process." I was struck by this as a similar progression in my own thought occurred as well during college. Dr. Carter, on his blog, offers penetrating cultural analysis and a genuine evangelical fervor. Below is an interview he graciously agreed to. If Dr. Carter is not currently on your RSS feed, I suggest you add him now. Be sure to check back each day as more of the interview is posted unveiled. This is not an interview you want to miss.

MOCan you describe the way in which your Christian worldview has informed your political worldview?

CC: As a Christian, I am a relentless pessimist with regard to the City of Man and an incurable optimist with regard to the City of God.  I am implacably opposed to all political philosophies which are either too optimistic with regard to the City of Man (eg. Progressivism, Marxism) or too dismissive of the City of God (eg. Secularism).  Thoughtful and pious Christians are the people who can be trusted to govern best in this world because they are well aware of the failings of human nature due to original sin, which minimizes their tendency toward embracing Utopianism, and because they have a sense of being accountable to God on the Day of Judgment, which gives them a healthy fear of killing the innocent no matter how good the cause.  Of course, Christians often fail to live up to their best insights and when they do fail it negates their advantage.  I’d rather be governed by a modest, moral, Aristotelian pagan than by a sophisticated, post-Christian, crypto-Marxist.  In the long run it is better to be ruled by a person who knows right from wrong, even if he still does the wrong thing sometimes (think Churchill for example), than by a person who thinks right and wrong are concepts that belong in fairy tales for children (think Stalin, for example).

I believe that Western civilization has been influenced by Christianity to an extent not seen in any other civilization in the world.  I believe that this influence is responsible for important, universal and permanently valid principles such as: limited government, the rule of law, individual freedom, the division of powers, free speech, freedom of religion, free enterprise, and natural law as the basis of positive law.  These principles are steadily being eroded in Western Europe and the UK, but are still powerfully influential in America, which is where the West will eventually make its last stand if present trends continue.

In the late modern West, I believe that an Augustinian must be a conservative and a conservative had better be an Augustinian if he wants to survive without falling into despair or converting to socialism.

MO:On your blog, you’ve mentioned your journey toward a more conservative approach to both theology and politics.  Would you share your journey with us? How did you go from being thoroughly Yoderian to now endorsing some sort of Christendom?

CC: It may be too early for me to see clearly how to answer this question accurately and I am not sure I possess enough self-awareness to understand my own motivations completely.  (No Augustinian would be cocksure about his own motives; as Jeremiah says: “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  Who can know it?”)  But I’ll give it a shot.

A number of things happened to me in 2008 that brought to a head a long-term dissatisfaction I had had with my theologically conservative/politically liberal stance, which is embodied in my 2005 book, Rethinking Christ and Culture.

One was the rise of the Evangelical Left and the total support that people like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren gave to the Democratic Party in the run-up to the election of Barack Obama.  The degree to which they were in the tank for the Democratic Party meant that they were enablers for the whole liberal agenda including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, the institutionalization of the sexual revolution, welfare statism and so on.  Also disturbing was their attempt to portray themselves as moderates in contrast to the Religious Right, which they demonized.   McLaren’s slide into a reprise of early 20th century liberal Protestantism in the name of “Newness” and “Balance” was repulsive. For me the single most alarming thing about the Evangelical Left was that they liked John Howard Yoder! Brian McLaren was selling The Politics of Jesus on his “Everything Must Change” tour.  I cringed when I heard that.

Another thing that happened was the media’s treatment of Sarah Palin after she was selected to be John McCain’s running mate in the Fall of 2008.  A group of people who have no problem with bowing to Islamic censorship of Western newspapers under threats of violence tried to convince the rest of us that she is a threat to democracy because she is a Pentecostal and she refused to abort a handicapped child.  I think Palin’s extreme detractors are demented.  It is one thing to oppose her on political issues; it is something else to call her baby Trig a “prop” or to call her “scary” because she attends an Evangelical community church.  It hit me one night watching her on TV that she could be the mother of one of my students or a person at church.  They were not attacking a Republican; they were attacking an Evangelical - me.  That was sobering.

Another thing that happened was that I became aware of the fact that a significant chunk of Evangelicalism was in the process of caving in on homosexuality and that the pansexualists were actually winning not just in the world, but in the Church too.  The Parliament of Canada created a fiction called “same-sex marriage” in 2005 and this is surely the beginning of the end of something.  I looked around and couldn’t see too many socialists standing up for traditional sexual morality and the family.  Only conservatives were doing that.  So I thought it was time to throw in my lot with those who were willing to put principle above expediency.

Around this time I also became convinced by the arguments of people like Robert George that economic freedom and the freedom of individuals and the family are inter-related and that a conservative position on both economic and family/morality issues holds together coherently.  I think that statism is a far greater threat to human dignity, freedom and prosperity – and to human life itself – than all the so-called dangers of capitalism put together.

I also became aware of the way that appointed bodies called “Human Rights Commissions” were going about earnestly stripping people of their right to free speech in the name of human rights.  It is Orwellian in the extreme; for example, a Christian pastor in Calgary was ordered not to speak about homosexuality ever again.  Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant stood up to these bureaucratic bullies and shone the searchlight on their madness.  And to see the mainstream media and academia just sitting there blinking as liberal democracy was trampled on was a searing experience.

Something else happened that year that I am not at liberty to discuss in order to protect the privacy of innocent people.  But I witnessed first-hand the absolutely frightening power and reach of the administrative state and how far the state’s power has grown relative to the shrinking power and freedom of families and individuals.  All I can say is that it shocked me into realizing that it was wrong and dangerous to go on promoting statist solutions to social problems.  I panicked and took down my blog because I was afraid I would be a target because of my opinions, but I decided to put it back up when I realized that appeasing bullies only makes them more likely to grind you down.  We have to fight against Leviathan even if the odds are not good.

Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.